Chapter 10 – International Projects

10.4. Selection of Employees (Expatriates)

If Project Managers and the team are not selected with the skills and experience necessary for an international project, the costs are high. The project, itself, can experience problems, and the reputation of the organization can suffer. Human Resources develops special screening processes to ensure a successful project, and ensure the team are successful. The term expatriates is used for employees leaving their home country to work in a host country.  They are sometimes called expats for short.

HR in Focus: Selection of Expatriates

HR looks at a group of characteristics that each team member needs to possess for a foreign country assignment. Sometimes, employees are selected that have prior experience with foreign country projects, prior overseas travel, are in good health (emotionally, mentally, physically), speak or understand the foreign country’s language, or even have a connection through heritage. However, often, the best people for the project are highly skilled, competent, experienced employees with none of the above characteristics.

The Human Resources Specialists would first identify the criteria for the staffing of the project. Several factors are considered:

  • Technical: Technical and managerial skills are critical.
  • Soft skills: Skills that include psychological readiness, international experience, language of the foreign country, ability to provide training to others.
  • Competence: Cross-cultural abilities that help the person adapt in new surroundings. In other words, can perform successfully in a different culture. Some of these may include empathy, diplomacy, language ability, good attitude, adaptable, flexible. They must also have emotional stability, and an open mind about different cultures.
  • Ability to adjust to foreign country: Ability to adapt and transition to different cultures. There are 4 phases: (sometimes called culture shock or culture adjustment). This is discussed later in the chapter.

It is important that Human Resources understand the 4 phases of Culture Shock; and support people through the stages. Understanding culture shock helps ensure they have an enriched experience while working on the international project.

Family Moving with Project Team

Sometimes, for longer term projects, the family moves with the expatriate. The family, especially the spouse or partner, carry a heavy weight with the move. They, too, will leave family and friends. If they work outside the home, they will need to leave their job and their colleagues. Children’s education gets interrupted. The family is a significant factor when considering an expatriate assignment to a project in a different country.

It is important for Human Resources to work with the Project Manager and team, as well as the family. Human Resources supports the family unit by helping the spouse or partner find a new job, find housing comparable to the one they left, assist in finding appropriate schools for the children, and providing transportation. This is a time-consuming task for Human Resources as they not only work with the Project Manager and the team, but the entire family unit. However, it is a critical step in guaranteeing a successful project.